A recent conversation with my uncle (East African Regional Director for Unicef) about “feeding the world’s growing population” quickly forayed into “land grabs” in Africa. In December of 2010, I wrote a troubling response on our blog to a New York Times article that first publicized the displacement of African farmers by foreign investments in “unused” land for commercial, export agriculture. A recent report by the Oakland Institute confirmed that the situation is dire, to say the least. Here is a summary of their findings in Ethiopia, the heart of current land grabs (Download full report here).
Ethiopia is one of the “least developed countries” in the world, ranked by the United Nations as 157 of 169 countries: 81% of Ethiopians live on less than $2 per day, and 13 million Ethiopians face severe food security each year. Over the past four years, the Ethiopian government has embarked on transferring more than 3,619,509 ha of land to investors, claiming that these investments will stimulate the economy by inserting much needed foreign currency while contributing to long-term food security and the transfer of technology to smallholder farmers.
The comprehensive research the Oakland Institute undertook to verify these claims yielded appalling, contradictory conclusions:
1. Commercial investment will increase rates of food insecurity in the vicinity of land investments.
2. Large discrepancies between publicly stated positions, laws, policies and procedures and what is actually happening on the ground.
3. No limits on water use, no Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA), and no environmental controls.
4. Displacement from farmland is widespread, and the vast majority of locals receive no compensation.
5. There is no meaningful pre-project assessment, and little in the way of local benefits associated with these land investments.
6. While large foreign investments grab headlines, many Ethiopian land deals involve small-scale investors (local and diaspora), many of whom have limited agricultural experience.
I encourage all readers to at least read the first two pages of the report for a more complete description of the consequences.